The trial judge is required to base child support on mandatory statewide child support guidelines. This essentially means that the trial judge will use a computer program (such as DissoMaster) to determine the appropriate level of child support for a parent to pay. The Court is required by law to take into consideration various factors and circumstances set forth in the California Family Code, including the following:
• Visitation Timeshare
• Filing Status of Each Parent
• Taxable and Nontaxable Income of Each Parent
• Mandatory Employment Deductions such as Retirement and Union Dues
• Medical Insurance Costs
• Mortgage Interest and Property Tax Payments
The parties should understand that the child support guidelines are not only mandatory, but somewhat inflexible. The Court will normally order the guideline child support that is calculated according to the computer support program used by the judicial officer. The Court does have discretion to vary from guideline child support, but these circumstances are rare. A paying party often wants to argue that his or her living expenses should be considered in calculating child support because he or she does not have sufficient funds to pay child support once all of his or her living expenses are paid. This argument will be unsuccessful in most cases, because California law mandates that child support is the top priority that a parent must pay before other living expenses. Additionally, there are complex issues relating to child support that could involve bonuses, overtime, stock options, disability income, non-taxable income, and dependency exemptions. Your family law attorney must have the ability to advocate your best argument regarding the contested child support issues or you may find yourself being very unsatisfied by the child support order issued by the Court.
The Court is required in California to make orders for mandatory child support add-ons in addition to basic child support. Mandatory child support add-ons involve orders for child care, and unreimbursed medical and dental costs. The Court also has the ability to order a party to maintain medical insurance for the benefit of the the minor children if available at reasonable cost to the party. The Court has discretion to order a parent to pay costs for private schooling, extra-curricular activities, and other expenses incurred on behalf of the minor child, but they are not subject to the same calculations as basic child support. Parents frequently want to force the other parent to pay a portion of private schooling costs that have been incurred in the past. Most judges will not do this, but will simply order that the parent wanting the minor children to continue in private school will be responsible for paying all related costs.
Termination of Child Support
Child support continues until your child is 18 years and graduates high school. Child support can continue up until age 19 as long as your child is still a full-time high school student residing at home. There are cases in which the Court is authorized to award child support for a disabled adult child. The adult child support issues become very complicated in terms of not only the determination as to whether a child is a “disabled child”, but also in determining the amount of child support that the Court will order.
Payment of Child Support by Wage Assignment
The Court is required to order that all child support be payable by wage assignment unless a parent against to be paid directly by the other parent. You are not required to go to Court to get a wage assignment order as long as there is a current order for child support in effect. Your attorney may simply submit a wage assignment order to the Court (called an Income Withholding Order) so that the wages of the other parent can be garnished for the appropriate amount of child support.
Department of Child Support Services (“DCSS”)
DCSS is authorized in each County in the State of California to take steps to enforce existing child support orders or to initiate a child support order. DCSS may enforce an existing child support order by various remedies including contempt, suspension of the parent’s Driver’s License, and an action to establish arrearages.
DCSS has sole jurisdiction over child support issues if the custodial parent is receiving public assistance. This means that all child support proceedings must take place at DCSS. The Court handling the other issues in your family law case will not have the ability to make orders on child support under these circumstances. If a parent voluntarily opens a DCSS case, then DCSS has sole and exclusive jurisdiction to hear child support issues as long the case remains open. DCSS theoretically represents the County in terms of collecting child support. However, if you are the non-custodial parent, then you should take steps to protect your financial interest by hiring an experienced family law attorney. You cannot expect DCSS to be working in your favor because their job is to collect child support from you.
The benefit to DCSS is that you are not charged any attorney fees by DCSS. However, DCSS is essentially a governmental service that often involves delays, and obtaining information on your case is often difficult. It is very important for you to communicate with your family law attorney before opening a DCSS case to make sure that this is in your best interest.